The month of August was the most boring part of the summer when I was growing up. And, judging from my daughter and now my sons, it has not changed a whole lot – except for school beginning before Labor Day, rather than after. Were it not for football workouts, the tension would be unbearable. Even with cell phones, Facebook, email, and so on, the circle of close friends is smaller during the summer than during the school year. Partially because some of those friends are only close friends when you see each other at school. After school, they are not so close.

The only technological device I had was a transistor radio (not complaining – just explaining). There was as yet no such thing as FM radio. Since the few close friends I had during the summer planned their vacations for August, I was forced to resort to my “B” list. You know, the friends that I could put up with if I had to. But B list friends could lead you to do things you would not ordinarily do.

One particular August, hot as usual, I was stuck with a B list friend. He lived next door and I think his name was Jeffrey. He was a little younger than I was, which was partly why he was on the B list. Across the dirt alley behind our homes was a fairly large park without many trees.

Part of the park doubled as the schoolyard for the elementary school on the left as we walked out the back gate. A creek ran along the other side of the park across from the school. The alley where we were standing formed the eastern border of the park and ended on the right at the creek which was the northern border. A few houses to the left, the dirt alley ended when a side street between two houses became the drive behind the school.

The back of the cafeteria was at that corner of the building. There was a short stairway leading up to the kitchen door about a hundred feet from the corner. The door was only used for the kitchen personnel and smaller deliveries. The truck delivery door was to the right, between the stairway and the end of the building.

Jeffrey and I were walking through the parking lot from the alley, bored as always in August. We noticed a wooden “door” of sorts in the side of the building under the floor of the cafeteria four feet past the stairwell. An open lock hung in the latch of the door. We took out the lock, opened the door, and crawled through the 3′ x 3′ space, finding ourselves under the cafeteria. I worked my way through the pipes to where I figured the cafeteria was and found another door above me in the floor.

Surprisingly, that door was unlocked as well.  We climbed up into the middle of the kitchen. We headed straight for the refrigerator. Jeffrey and I helped ourselves to canned fruit,  olives, and pickles. Maybe a few slices of cheese – they were not individually wrapped then. After we had a snack, there was not much else to do. We had no interest in any other part of the school and we were not completely sure no one else was there.

Getting out was a little different than getting in – we did not know if anyone would be looking. But we made it out without incident and walked away quickly. We revisited the kitchen a few times that August – all without incident. I noticed after school began that the custodian had fastened the lock.

I have no doubt Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn engaged in the same type of questionable activity – the mischievous behavior of bored children. But I do not know how much guilt they felt. As for myself, I did not think about it too much, but I knew deep down that I was sinning at the time. Which made it worse that I did it anyway. I probably rationalized the actions by thinking that no one was hurt.

Yet it was a crime (albeit a misdemeanor) and a sin. Ironically, since I lived on the edge  of the schoolyard/park, I always went home for lunch. I was saved the feeling of regret when returning to the scene of the crime. Other than a cursory view from the kitchen, I never saw the cafeteria – just the kitchen and under the floor.

I could not be legally prosecuted now. The statute of limitations on school cafeteria theft of produce and condiments has surely expired. But God knows. It may be low on my list of sins in order of importance, but it is still on the list. Just another one of the things I continue to ask God’s forgiveness for, and that I have in common with Tom Sawyer.

Peace be with you.

* –  Tom Sawyer was one of the first books I read growing up. Things I Have in Common with Tom Sawyer is a series of posts about the activities of prepubescent and adolescent youth – mostly mine. Times when I was in a “Tom Sawyer” frame of mind. Read the first post here.

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